Sundance Films 2015 M10: Meru
I thought I was seeing a climbing movie. Boy was I wrong. Or at least, I've never seen a climbing movie LIKE THIS! At the Q and A, someone stood up and asked: "this is so dangerous, why do you guys do this?" Wait, did they just walk in off the street? Were they on their phone for the whole time? Did not we just see an intense, deeply personal movie that is PRIMARILY about this very topic?
The Shark's Fin on Meru is an incredible climb, and in some ways, the most difficult climb achieved on the planet to date. The world's best alpinists have engaged in a dance with this route for at least 10 years, all coming up short. This was Conrad's third attempt, his second with Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk. And in many ways, it is most likely Conrad's final big route.
Both Jimmy and Renan are professional photographers/videographers, so much amazing footage was captured. And they could have made a fine movie about the climb.
But that is not THIS movie. THIS movie is much, much more. Yes, it is scaffolded by their two expeditions across three years, but it delves deeply into everybodies lives and motivations, and especially Conrad's. We meet Conrad's wife and kids and his two so-important mentors: Mugs Stump and Alex 'The Fiend' Lowe. Meru was a twinkle in Mugs's eye a long time ago, and completing Meru was as much a tribute to Mugs as anything else. Alex was the ultimate non-reckless best climber ever - ironically killed in a giant Himalayan avalanche that also just missed killing Conrad. There is a ton more to this complicated entanglement of lives, that I will refrain from trying to explain here. The movie lays it out well.
For me, the movie is deeply personal. Conrad is my friend, though I haven't really seen him in 15 years. Alex and Mugs were my friends. It was great to see them again, if only their ghosts. I'm thankful Conrad is still with us, was still able to walk that fine line and stay on the living side of it, and be with us on this beautiful evening, watching this beautiful film.
And Enough! I was emotionally exhausted - time to quit the big city and crawl back to my cave. Tax forms awaited my attention. Something dry and task-oriented. Please.
Directed and Produced by Jimmy's wife E Chai Vasahelyi (I hope I got all that right). It won the audience award for best US Documentary at Sundance - no mean feat. Well-deserved. This is a great film to see on a big screen - so please, go see it thus if you get the opportunity. It will likely open on a limited release on the big screens for a short while - so make the effort to get on it. I will see it again, and again, if possible.